Whether it’s an intimate gathering of family and close friends, or a huge celebration that includes the whole village, Filipinos love parties. The Filipino fiesta or festival has been a momentous event binding communities together for centuries, with the tradition tracing back to the Spanish colonization.
There are plenty of festivals in the Philippines — every local province, city, and town has a different patron saint, and each one is celebrated in a unique way as defined by cultural traditions. Some festivals include large celebrations that are attended by thousands, with extravagant and lively parades, events, and street celebrations, while some are small and involve potlucks between families and neighbors.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, here’s a list of some of the biggest, grandest festivals in the Philippines.
The Panagbenga is a yearly festival in the cold uplands of Baguio, meant to showcase the beauty of the colorful flowers in the region. Held every February, the word “panagbenga”, roughly translated as “Season of Blooming”, comes from the Kankanaey language, which is spoken by an indigenous group in the Cordilleras. The Panagbenga festival’s main event takes place in the famous Session Road in Baguio City. Young kids from elementary schools and other members of the community parade down the street wearing vibrant and intricate costumes reminiscent of the wide variety of flowers that can be found in the area.
The Masskara Festival in Bacolod has quite the unique origin story. On April 22, 1980, a bus on its way back to Bacolod city from Manila collided with an oil tanker, leaving 176 dead and plenty more missing. Bacolod locals were devastated, with many having lost loved ones in the accident. The people of the island of Negros, rising strong from the tragedy, came up with the Masskara festival to celebrate joy and gratitude despite hardship, and dubbed Bacolod as “the city of smiles”. Today, the annual Masskara festival is indeed a cheerful occasion, with street parties and parades featuring the intricately designed masked costumes of participants, with delicious local street food abundant.
The Kadayawan Festival in Davao City is a vibrant sight, with various brightly-colored banderitas and fruit vendors selling only the sweetest tropical fruit like durian, rambutan, lanzones, and mangosteen. The Kadayawan Festival’s origin comes from the practices of the indigenous people of the region, and is meant to give thanks to Manama, the Supreme God. Today, the Kadayawan Festival is a city-wide cultural event, focusing on featuring the traditions, dances, and games of the 11 indigenous groups in the area.
Giant Lantern Festival
To add to the already vibrant Christmas spirit in the country, Pampanga holds a Giant Lantern Festival every December, where the 11 towns in the area compete for the title of “brightest star of the night”. The yearly Giant Lantern Festival draws in thousands of local and foreign spectators to marvel at the complex workmanship involved in the giant lanterns, none of which measure below 15 feet in diameter and all featuring intricate designs, patterns, and mechanisms.
In the small island of Marinduque, locals wear costumes weighing roughly 10 kilograms to serve as their act of penance for the Holy Week. Such is the tradition of the Moriones Festival, which commemorates Jesus Christ’s passion and death through a reenactment of the story of Longinus, a half-blind Roman soldier who was present when Jesus Christ was crucified. Participants of the festival become Morions, wearing masks that depict the faces of Roman centurions along with their 10kg costumes, marching under the sweltering heat. Among locals, the Moriones is an important and exciting event, with children and teens thrilled to be a part of the parade, and participants spending almost 6,000 to 7,000 pesos for their Morion mask. Artisans trained by older generations who have perfected the art make the masks. They feature intricate details chiseled off of soft wood, complete with horse hair details for the helmet and crest, and delicately painted facial features and eyelashes made from human hair.
Showcasing the ancient traditions of body tattooing, the Pintados-Kasadyaan initially started as a way to remember warriors of the past who would wear tattoos to show their heroism and experience in battle. Eventually, the province of Leyte combined their tradition with the vibrant festivals from nearby provinces in Eastern Visayas, bringing them all together into a spectacular, momentous event that celebrates the region’s cultural diversity.
The famous Ati-atihan in Aklan has multiple stories of origin among cultural scholars, but regardleess of origin, the festival is indeed a sight to behold. Called the Mother of all Festivals by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts, the Kalibo Santo Niño Ati-atihan Festival inspired plenty of other regions to stage their own celebrations to honor the Feast Day of the Santo Niño. However, the original Ati-atihan did not lose its uniqueness, and is still one of the most thrilling and unique experiences you can have, with various competitions, float parades, events, bazaars, and live music and street parties with bands and internationally-renowned DJs.
In the busy, bustling cityscape of Iloilo city, the grand spectacle of the Dinagyang makes a startling contrast against everyday urban life. The Dinagyang is named after a Hiligaynon term meaning merrymaking or revelry, and is the city’s own version of the Ati-atihan, celebrating not only the Santo Niño but also local culture and indigenous costume and design. The festival is dubbed as a week-long party, with live music and performances, as well as an opportunity for tourists and locals alike to appreciate Iloilo’s local food, drink, and culture.
The variation of the Ati-atihan in Cebu is the famed Sinulog festival, which has since been known as one of the most extravagant events in the Philippines, attended by thousands from all over the world. Apart from being a colorful and joyous street celebration, the Sinulog is also a way for plenty of devotees to show their faith and commitment to the Santo Nino, with hundreds attending the novena masses held in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. The highlight of the festival is the Sinulog Grand Parade, featuring flashy intricate costumes, choreographed dances, and live music.
Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival
The Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival in Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro is perhaps a more contemporary translation of the idea of the fiesta, bringing together local and international musical acts along with installations and performances by visual artists, all enveloped in the serene picturesque Puerto Galera Bay. What sets the Malasimbo festival apart from other music festivals across the globe is that it was founded based on the philosophy of highlighting the interactions between contemporary music and arts, the culture of the indigenous Mangyan people in Oriental Mindoro, and an appreciation for nature and the environment.
If you’re looking for more ideas for travel destinations and cultural events to see around the world, be sure to check out the Travel tag on Daydreaming in Paradise.
James Gonzales is a Filipino-American travel enthusiast and writer currently based in the Philippines. After living and working in New York for 10 years, James decided he wanted to see more of the world and leave the city behind. In the course of saving up for what would become an epic trip across Asia, he wrote about previous traveling experiences for various travel websites and publications based in the Lower East Side.
James focused on journeying through the Philippines in the hopes of understanding his roots, and began Daydreaming in Paradise to share his thoughts and experiences. He’s always looking for like-minded travelers to trade stories and swap tips with, and he hopes you’ll join him on his journey.